HOUSTON — Center fielder Nate McLouth (strained oblique) could also be back from the disabled list within a week, in which case the Braves will have an outfield decision with Jordan Schafer.
While filling in for McLouth, Schafer has provided strong center-field defense and a spark at the leadoff position with speed and a base-stealing threat the Braves lacked.
Gonzalez indicated that McLouth or Schafer would move to left field, where the Braves will likely be without standout Martin Prado for at least the rest of June as he recovers from a staph infection.
“I don’t know which one [would move to left],” Gonzalez said. “I know Schafer’s done it. In spring training he played all three. We made sure he played all three in spring training. I don’t know that Nate’s every played another position other than center field.”
McLouth played eight games (five starts) in left field in 2010. Of the two, Schafer has a much stronger arm and probably better speed and range.
Before Monday’s series finale at Houston, Schafer had stolen more bases (four) in the past three days against the Astros than any other Brave had stolen all season.
Schafer had only hit .222 (14-for-63) with a .319 OBP in 16 games since arriving from Triple-A Gwinnett to replace McLouth, but had seven stolen bases in nine attempts. The rest of the Braves had a combined 12 stolen bases this season in 28 attempts before Monday.
In his past five games, Schafer was 6-for-21 (.286) with a triple and five steals.
McLouth has been on the DL since May 23, a day after right fielder Jason Heyward was DL’d. McLouth has faced live pitching at the team’s training camp in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., and is expected to begin a rehab assignment within a few days.
Even with Prado out, the Braves would have a potentially strong defensive outfield with McLouth, Schafer and Heyward, who began a rehab assignment at Gwinnett on Monday and could be activated as soon as Wednesday.
“It’s almost like having three center fielders out there, because Heyward’s pretty good [defensively],” Gonzalez said. “He’s got good range, and then you’ve got Nate and Schafer.
“All three are left-handed hitters. You wish one of them was a right-handed hitter, you know? That’s the way it goes.”
The Braves have used a combination of veteran utiliy man Eric Hinske, journeyman Joe Mather and rookie Matt Young to fill in at the outfielder corners.
Young, after struggling mightily in his first major league stint earlier in the season, Young was 6-for-19 (.316) with two walks and a .381 OBP in the past five games before Monday, all in right field.
Hinske hit home runs Friday and Saturday against Houston while making starts in left.
Beachy nearing return, too
Brandon Beachy is scheduled to make rehab starts for Gwinnett on Thursday and June 21, after which he could be ready to rejoin the Braves’ starting rotation.
The rookie right-hander has been on the DL since May 14 with a strained oblique in his left side, and Thursday will be his first rehab start following three simulated innings Saturday at the Braves’ training camp in Lake Buena Vista, Fla.
Beachy is scheduled to throw 70-80 pitches Thursday and about 100 pitches on June 21. If he has no setbacks, it seems likely he’ll be activated. Mike Minor will make his third fill-in start for Beachy on Thursday against the Mets, and the Brave have also used prospect Julio Teheran as a fill-in starter.